Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities is modernizing the horror anthology. In the same vein as Tales from the Crypt, Night Gallery, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, it brings together a group of horror directors to take on 60-minute stories, often adaptations of existing fiction. The Babadook director Jennifer Kent, for example, is closing the series with a story that’s generating a lot of critical buzz.
In a diversion from its typical model, Netflix is releasing two episodes daily for four days. While you can watch the series in any order, Episodes 3 and 4 are the strongest of the uneven show and make for a perfectly curated double feature.
Episode 3, “The Autopsy,” is based on a Hugo-nominated short story by Michael Shea, and helmed by The Empty Man director David Prior. It stars F. Murray Abraham as Dr. Carl Winters, a coroner called in for a special investigation after a mining accident. Working in a makeshift lab, he records his notes as he discovers that some of the bodies are drained of blood... and that one may still be alive.
Without spoiling too much, this episode dwells more on the sci-fi than the horror. Dr. Winters’ investigation quickly goes from a routine autopsy to a fight for survival, and ultimately a battle of wits against something not of this earth.
Abraham takes on his character with a reserved resignation. As a coroner, he’s matter-of-fact about mortality, which makes his own fate seem like no big deal. When faced with an alien threat, he doesn’t worry about himself, but focuses only on containing the damage. There’s plenty of body horror (beware if you’re squeamish when it comes to eyeballs), but also a lot of cerebral discussion about exactly how we define a soul. And, like all good horror stories, there’s a final shocking twist.
Then there’s Episode 4, “The Outside,” directed by A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’s Ana Lily Amirpour and based on a short story by Emily Carroll. This episode — by far the lightest of the series — follows Stacy (Kate Micucci), a banker and amateur taxidermist living with her supportive husband (Martin Starr).
Stacy is a role only Garfunkel and Oates’ Micucci could play. Her unique voice and doe-eyed stare (amplified with an SFX lazy eye) add a layer of humanity to this story about a woman suckered into believing that a mystical lotion will make her look beautiful. Despite her allergic reaction to the formula and her husband insisting she’s beautiful inside and out, she burrows down a rabbit hole of devotion to the product, ultimately leading to a delusional state that makes “The Yellow Wallpaper” sound like a nursery rhyme.
Both episodes explore how a person interacts with their body, and both star character actors with great comedy chops. But while similar, they have incredibly different tones and stances. “The Outside,” appropriately, focuses on the external influence we have on how people perceive us by satirizing the beauty industry, while “The Autopsy” focuses on how we can fight our bodies internally even when they betray us.
Anthology series rarely have such synergistic themes, but it’s clear that thought was put into Cabinet of Curiosities’ release order, and these two episodes are engineered to be companion pieces. If you only watch one day’s worth of this series, make it today’s.
Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities is now streaming on Netflix.